It takes utmost control over one’s body to portray a body with no control. The unstable physicality of motor neurone disease obviously cannot be overlooked when depicting a man with such a condition. Not only that, the development from an able-bodied young student, to a slowly diminishing shell of a being, still with the core – the brain – left completely untouched. To take on such a challenge would seem like a job for two or more actors, varying ages between time eras, each specialising in a different part of Stephen Hawking’s changing life. And yet 32-year-old Eddie Redmayne managed a whole twenty years of the advancing disease in just under two hours of pure acting excellence. Though excellence seems too weak a word.
“The little one has done it.” Yes he has.
It might as well have been the real Hawking on screen. And apparently even he could barely tell the difference between himself and the young actor. I have no doubt there is Oscar buzz. And even if the film isn’t perfect, I am rooting for Redmayne all the way (that is, until I see Birdman – I lack the disposition to commit fully without witnessing that so-called broth of cinematic weirdness).
The developing relationship between Hawking and his wife, Jane, the forerunner of the film, in light of the professor’s physical deterioration is pretty grueling to watch at times. Though obviously, not nearly as grueling as living through it. The moments of silence highlighted something that spoken language just can’t communicate – the reticent desperation to have a voice, to speak out, but forever restrained by the boundaries of science. That is until 1985 and the metamorphic invention of the computer communication aid. But there was something about the recurring auditory stillness that felt haunting, an indication of the ever-growing sea that was forming between the two halves of one demanding marriage.
The one thing that confused me was the lack of ageing makeup on Felicity Jones as her character grew older. Was Jane Hawking genuinely a real-life Peter Pan? Despite that, her performance cannot go unappreciated. I feel it can often be harder to build up a performance dominated by subtleties. She had to be consistently believable in her love and struggle for the rest of the cast to succeed – the linchpin, I suppose, of everything around her. And anyway, I don’t think I could every say a bad word about Felicity Jones – she’s always so bloody good.
Whether you are interested in the story or not, see it for the performances. I could tempt you with a few more names *cough* David Thewlis Charlie Cox Emily Watson *cough*. Ignore the haters. In the words of Hawking himself, this film is mega…I mean, “where there is life, there is hope.” Let that mellow for a minute or two.